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 (Manna 76: Commission)
The Blessing and Curse of Servitude
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Adapted from a sermon by H.H. Ko—Heidelburg, Germany

During the Old Testament era, God established the priesthood so that there would be dedicated people to minister in His tabernacle during the wilderness years and in the temple during the settlement period. Their role was to fulfil the ceremonial duties relating to worship, offering sacrifices and making atonement for the chosen people, and acting as a mediator between God and man. This was an honorable vocation, and one not to be taken lightly. In return for faithful service, God offered the priests a special blessing, with the right to enter into a covenant conferring life and peace:

My covenant was with him, one of life and peace,

And I gave them to him that he might fear Me;

So he feared Me

And was reverent before My name.” (Mal 2:5)

However, if the priests failed to uphold their part of the covenant, they would reap a curse:

And now, O priests, this commandment is for you.

If you will not hear,

And if you will not take it to heart,

To give glory to My name,”

Says the LORD of hosts,

I will send a curse upon you,

And I will curse your blessings.

Yes, I have cursed them already,

Because you do not take it to heart.

Behold, I will rebuke your descendants

And spread refuse on your faces,

The refuse of your solemn feasts;

And one will take you away with it.” (Mal 2:1–3)

God illustrated the dire nature of the curse: He would take dung from the sacrificial animals at the holy feasts and smear it on the faces of the priests; and He would then have them removed from His presence.

In this New Testament era, there is no longer a need for physical priesthood. What we have today is a spiritual priesthood comprising believers cleansed by the blood of Jesus and given the privilege of serving God directly (1 Pet 2:5, 9; Rev 1:6; 5; 20:6). Nevertheless, the standards of our eternal God do not change; the principles of servitude still apply as they did in times past.

Blessings for Those Who Follow Jesus

If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” (Jn 12:26)

Jesus promised a blessing for those serving God. However, from His words, “If anyone serves Me,” we understand that it is conditional upon a spirit of willingness. In truth, our service to God should not be rendered under compulsion.

The Song of Solomon records three occasions when God says, “Do not stir up or awaken love, until it pleases” (Song 2:7; 3:5; 8:4). These words tell us that God is waiting for us, as believers, to be ready and willing to show our love and devotion to Him; He will not compel us. Indeed, if we feel pressured or obliged to undertake a task for God, such that we grudgingly do it, our service will not be pleasing to Him.

It is with good reason, then, that Jesus says if we are to serve Him, we must first follow Him. This entails self-denial and submission to His will. Whether we find this easy or difficult to do depends on our level of spiritual cultivation and our self-regard, in terms of how confident we are in our own gifts and abilities. Generally speaking, the knowledge, experiences and accomplishments we acquire over the years will make it harder for us to practice self-denial. When we were young, we could perhaps accept criticism and were able to forgive and forget; but do we maintain the same humility with the advancing years? Self-denial for a worker of God can be a real challenge—one that lasts a lifetime because our Christian journey entails following and serving Christ for life.

There is a saying: “A person might work so hard that his face is covered in sweat, while other people’s lips will be full of criticism.” We may have experienced or witnessed the truth of this saying ourselves, where we have worked very diligently to take care of church affairs, but others have not appreciated the effort. In fact, there are members who simply do not know how to be appreciative. Instead, they come to church as auditors, constantly finding fault. These are likely to

be the ones who like to critique the sermon speakers or to complain that the church has no love. It really is not easy to serve God. But still, there are members in our midst who continue to serve Him steadfastly, with a heart of self-denial and submission. These are the workers whom God will surely honor.

Honored by God

Jesus says, “If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” Normally, it is man’s duty to honor God, but here we are told that God will show respect to the one who serves Him. How will He do this?

Numbers 6:22–27 records the blessing of the high priest for the people of Israel. It is a complete and perfect blessing containing three strands: 

            “The LORD bless you and keep you.” (Num 6:24)

These words confer a blessing from God, the heavenly Father on high, to His chosen people below.

The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.” (Num 6:25)

These words bring to mind the relationship between God and Moses. Moses had the privilege of speaking with God face to face as a friend (Ex 33:11). After conversing together on Mount Sinai for forty days and nights, Moses’ face reflected and radiated God’s divine light. Today, we know that we, too, can commune with God through prayer and experience His face shining on us.

The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” (Num 6:26)

 In the Bible there are many verses that speak of believers lifting up their faces to God. But in this blessing, God is the One who will lift up His countenance upon us. When we serve Him, He will honor us, placing us on high to be with Him, and grant us peace.

Moses Honored by God

Exodus 32 records an incident where the Israelites made a golden calf, while Moses was on the mountain receiving the commandments and ordinances from God.  

And the LORD said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.” (Ex 32:7)

These were harsh words God directed at Moses, the man He honoured. God referred to the Israelites as “[Moses’] people, whom [he] brought out of the land of Egypt.” It seemed God was distancing Himself from the chosen people; previously, He had addressed the people, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex 20:2).  

How did Moses respond? 

Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: “LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?” (Ex 32:11)

Here, Moses reminded God that the people belonged to Him and He was the One responsible for their deliverance. 

And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.” (Ex 32:9–10)

God wanted to destroy the Israelites, yet, He was mindful of Moses’ feelings. If Moses had not tried to intervene, God would have destroyed the sinful people there and then.

Eli Lost God’s Honor

Eli was a loyal priest. Despite his advanced years, he always remained on duty, sitting by the doorpost of God’s tabernacle. And each night, he would retire to the priests’ quarters (1 Sam 1:9; 3:2). At the time, priests started their ministry at the age of thirty and retired at fifty. But even at retirement, the priests would continue going to the temple, except their work would be lighter. It would be left to the younger, stronger, priests to undertake the laborious tasks—for example, to skin and butcher the oxen and carry the carcasses to be sacrificed at the altar.

Now when he came, there was Eli, sitting on a seat by the wayside watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city and told it, all the city cried out...Then it happened, when he made mention of the ark of God, that Eli fell off the seat backward by the side of the gate; and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years. (1 Sam 4:13, 18)

Eli was watching and waiting for news of the ark of God. When he learned of its fate, he immediately fell backwards and broke his neck. His death marked the end of a generation. All that he left behind was a grandson by the name of Ichabod, meaning “inglorious,” for the glory had departed from Israel. What had brought about such a tragic ending? 

The Bible says that Eli’s two sons had been wicked and corrupt and did not know the Lord (1 Sam 2:12). This is curious as they had been trained up from a young age for service in the tabernacle located in Shiloh. They should have been familiar with the laws and statutes of God. But God had to send a messenger to point out their sins to Eli.

Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Did I not clearly reveal Myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt in Pharaoh’s house?...Why do you kick at My sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?’ ” (1 Sam 2:27, 29)

Even though Eli was loyal in many respects, he lacked true knowledge. He did not honor God or His sacrifices; he allowed his sons to show disregard for the sacrifices and to commit adultery with the women at the door of the tabernacle. Eli could have dealt with his sinful offspring, but he chose not to. For this reason, God issued a warning through a messenger: 

Therefore the LORD God of Israel says: “I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.” But now the LORD says: “Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed. Behold, the days are coming that I will cut off your arm and the arm of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house…Now this shall be a sign to you that will come upon your two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas: in one day they shall die, both of them.” (1 Sam 2:30–31, 34)

It was unfortunate that Eli did not heed this message. God tried again, this time, sending a little child to speak to him. This child was Samuel.

Then the LORD said to Samuel: “Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them.” (1 Sam 3:11–13)

Again, Eli failed to act, thus bringing a curse upon himself and his two sons. On the same day, all three were cut off from God.


From the contrasting examples of Moses and Eli, we can see how our service to God can either bring abundant blessings, or dire consequences. If we are faithful, God will bless us with life and peace. More wonderfully, He will speak to us face to face and be attentive to our intercessions and feelings. We will experience His presence in our lives and feel the light of His countenance shining on all we do.

However, if we are complacent in our servitude, we will be shamed by God. Our works will be unfruitful and bring no pleasure to Him. He may punish or warn us through various means, but if we persist, we will be removed from serving before Him—the gift of service will be taken from us, and God will no longer abide with us.

Therefore, whether we receive a blessing or a curse is up to us—it depends on the faithfulness of our servitude, whether we undertake it with submission and self-denial. Since priesthood is an honor and a gift (Num 18:7), which brings blessings that the Lord God does not have to render, let us be thankful and carry out the work with a willing heart.

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Author: H. H. Ko